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Short Fireside Reads You Can Finish in One Evening

  01 Dec '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

For many of us, taking some time off work and school in December means one thing – lots of reading time! Sitting by a crackling fire with a warm drink, totally engrossed in a new book, is the definition of relaxation this time of year. If you prefer short books that you can whip through or if you’re desperately trying to reach a reading goal before the end of the year, this list is for you. Check out our recommendations for captivating short reads that you can absorb in one evening.

Darkland Tales: Hex by Jenni Fagan & Rizzio by Denise Mina

The Darkland Tales are a gripping series of dramatic, fictional retellings of moments from myth, legend, and history in Scotland. Each of the instalments tells a different story from Scotland’s past, with each Scottish author taking on a tale in their own unique style. The stories vary from different periods of history, so each book offers something entirely new, and they need not be read in any particular order. So far in the series, Rizzio by Denise Mina and Hex by Jenni Fagan have been published to critical acclaim.

Rizzio centres on the grisly and sudden murder of Mary, Queen of Scots’ friend and secretary, David Rizzio. Full of intrigue, sexual politics, secrets, and lies, once you pick up Rizzio, you won’t be able to put it down. Several decades later, young Geillis Duncan is the focus of Jenni Fagan’s witchy, feminist novella, Hex. In this reimagining, a real young woman who was accused of witchcraft in the North Berwick Witch Trials receives a mysterious visitor while she awaits execution in her cell. Iris, a woman from our century, travels back in time and connects with Geillis, and the two women spend a fateful night bonding over the oppression women face, past and present. You’ll be so invested in this compelling story, that you’ll want to read it all in one night! 

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Even though Orwell’s farmyard political satire is the definition of a classic, there’s a good chance you might have missed this one in school. Or perhaps you’d like to return to an old favourite and reengage with it in today’s changing political landscape. Regardless, this humorous, disturbing, thought-provoking novel makes for a short, fascinating read. First published in 1945, Animal Farm’s pervasive themes surrounding the corruptive influence of power are still relevant today.

The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark

For a classic satire of a different kind, check out The Abbess of Crewe by Muriel Spark. One of 22 brilliant novels written in her lifetime, this book is a hilarious satire of the infamous Watergate Scandal. In the competitive election of a new abbess at the Convent of Crewe, two nuns, Alexandra and Felicity, are the main contenders. While Alexandra begins bugging the convent for intel, Felicity is busy trying to hide an affair with a young Jesuit priest after their love letters are stolen. A laugh-out-loud, concise read, The Abbess of Crewe will keep you entertained on a cold winter’s night.

The People’s City

Did you know that Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO city of literature? As such, it has been the birthplace of some of the world’s most famous stories and the home of some of the best-known authors for centuries. From Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Edinburgh has been host to some incredible feats of creative writing. To celebrate the city and its tremendous literary history, Polygon and One City Trust have collaborated to bring some of the finest Scottish writers together to write about the place they call home. Authors such as Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, Sara Sheridan, and more have penned brilliant short stories from different decades of Edinburgh’s past, often focused around significant landmarks and historical events. The People’s City will bring you solace and remind of Edinburgh’s incredible beauty and cultural importance.

Short Stories by Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith has been called ‘a master storyteller,’ and these collections of his original, charming short stories are a testament to the truth of that title. First published in 2020, Tiny Tales is a wonderful selection of thirty stories about romance, ambition, kindness and happiness. As the book title suggestions, these stories may be brief, but they will certainly stay with you. For a short story collection with a bit of edge, The Exquisite Art of Getting Even includes four tales of revenge, retribution and redemption. While they may be on the darker side, they’re not at all devoid of McCall Smith’s trademark wit, warmth, and humour.

A Large Measure of Snow by Denzil Meyrick

Finally, from the delightful wintry novella series, the Kinloch Tales, we have A Large Measure of Snow by Denzil Meyrick. This quick read is the first in the series, where heavy snowfall in December 1967 traps the residents of the town of Kinloch in their homes. With the roads closed, the only way to feed the town is through the efforts of the fishing fleet, as they sail to Girvan for much-needed supplies. The crew of the Girl Maggie set off in the blizzard, embarking on an unexpected adventure. This is a cosy book, ideal for fireside reading. And with Meyrick’s witty, fast-paced writing, you might just finish it in one night!

Browse our short fiction recommendations here:

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